Bennington Review Michael Dumanis was featured on Duotrope's Editor Interview series, in which he discussed his aesthetic, his favorite writers, his editing process, and more.
Reposted from Duotrope:
Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.
A: Birds, not birdcages.
Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?
A: A Public Space, Black Warrior Review, BOAAT, Boston Review, The Common, Conduit, Copper Nickel, Fence, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, jubilat, Kenyon Review, Lana Turner, Noon, Octopus, The Offing, Oversound, Prelude, Tin House, The Volta, Washington Square, The Academy of American Poets' Poem-a-Day Series.
Q: Who are your favorite writers?
A: As an editor, I am particularly drawn to writers who are willing to be dazzling and reckless and brutal and lovely, writers whose voices are utterly singular, writers who are willing to take risks with their pieces' architecture and content. Some of the fiction writers I most admire defy narrative conventions and employ language that is both lyrical and fierce. I find myself particularly interested in stories that risk shifting my world paradigm, as opposed to stories that are "relatable." Similarly, poets I like tend to be simultaneously formally tenacious and wildly innovative. I come to poetry because I want to come away seeing and thinking differently, to allow someone else's flights of language and image and idea to affect my own reasoning, vision, and language. Writers who excite me most represent a multitude of perspectives and persuasions, creating work that communicates and celebrates difference, the singularity and pluralism of human experience.
Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?
A: Bennington Review has a long and distinguished history, originally founded in 1966, publishing its last issue (prior to 2016) in 1986, then hibernating for a thirty-year period. Its former editor Robert Boyers referred to it as "a testing ground for contemporary arts and letters." We are drawn to the idea of a journal as a testing ground, and are committed to selecting works that feel unexpected and new, even when they arrive with their edges raw. We feel a strong commitment to the print publication in a digital age, to creating and curating a book, a gallery of pieces to encounter in a particular order that inherently end up in dialogue with one another. We also have a particular interest in contemporary fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction by women, writers of color, immigrant writers, and writers residing outside the United States.
Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?
A: Read actively and widely in your genre, both the tradition you are writing into and the contemporaries you are in dialogue with. Don't be afraid to take chances with your language, your imagery, your line-breaks, your characters, your story, your thoughts. Don't be afraid to be interesting. When you surprise yourself with what you have written, you are probably on the right track.
Q: Describe the ideal submission.
A: Innovative, intelligent, and moving.
Q: What do submitters most often get wrong about your submissions process?
A: I am not sure it's a matter of anyone getting anything "wrong," it's just a matter of matching one's work to the tastes and interests of the readers, editorial assistants, and editors. The work in our inaugural Spring/Summer 2016 issue, as well as the work in our forthcoming Fall/Winter 2017 issue, and the work we've featured on our website, would likely give submitters a clear sense of what we're after.
Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?
A: We like to know who we're corresponding with, so we are interested in what you want to tell us in your cover letter, even though it never affects what we finally decide about your submission. If you've never published anything before, please let us know. If we've encouraged you to try us again on a previous submission that came very close, we definitely meant it, so you should remind us.
Q: How much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?
A: Sometimes you know from the first words of a piece if you want to keep reading. Sometimes you can't put a piece of writing down. Sometimes you can. As a safeguard, multiple readers look at every piece. As long as there is a reasonable chance we will accept the piece, or if another reader liked it, I will continue reading. I read a lot of pieces to the end.
Q: What additional evaluations, if any, does a piece go through before it is accepted?
A: Every piece goes through multiple readers. If any of the readers like a piece, we all reread it and engage in a group discussion, after which the editor makes a final decision.
Q: What is a day in the life of an editor like for you?
A: I spend a lot of it chasing my two-year-old son, and a lot of it teaching at Bennington College, and working on my own writing. But every day, I read submissions through Submittable and correspond with writers, at times with my child on my lap. During the academic year, I meet with our editorial assistants at Bennington College once a week. Every week I also meet in Brooklyn with our managing editor. On weekends or quite late at night or very early on weekday mornings I tend to find myself reclining on my living room couch and binging on submissions, usually focusing on one genre at a time.
Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?
A: Bennington Review is in an interesting position due to the fact that we've revived the journal in 2016 after a thirty-year hiatus. First and foremost, we value the journal's physical existence as a book that can be read from cover to cover, but we also recognize and value the advantages that technology offers. For instance, we like to use social media and our website to feature selections from each print issue in order to open the journal to more readers. We like the global reach that modern technology brings, but, at the end of the day, I still like to read a journal that I can hold in my hands.
Q: How much do you edit an accepted piece prior to publication?
A: Once a piece is accepted, we rigorously proofread and copy-edit it. We sometimes offer line edits and editorial suggestions, but always as part of a conversation with the author. We make no substantive changes to the content, language, or presentation of a piece without a writer's prior approval.